Our Position
DRI's view: Russian "soft power" and manipulation of memory in the Gali district
As the de facto ministry of foreign affairs of Abkhazia is threatening to suspend international activities carried out in Abkhazia without its consent, the Russian Federation's illegal representation in Abkhazia is active in charitable and humanitarian directions. Their activities apply to the Gali district as well.
Through the efforts of representatives of international organizations and civil society, a number of projects were implemented in the Gali district to improve the educational conditions and infrastructure for the local Georgian population. However, recent developments show that the Russian Federation's illegal representation in Abkhazia may remain the only "international" force operating as a humanitarian mission in Gali, thus disguising Russia's strategy of annexing Abkhazia.
As the Democracy Research Institute has been informed, an employee of the illegal representation of the Russian Federation visited Gali in February and donated books to local schools. Addressing an audience gathered for the occasion, he said: "Russia does not forget the Georgians in Abkhazia. Even though there are attempts to erase historical memory, we remember that we had one country not long ago and lived happily together ... and of course the Gali district is included in the programme of our embassy. "
A similar gift arrived in Gali for the second time. It is noteworthy that Russia's illegal representation addresses the Georgian population of Gali as Georgians. In the political context of these words, we can read the promise of protection. Such a hidden message may be based on the context that Abkhazians are enemies of Georgians, that reconciliation cannot and will not happen, and that Russia is therefore the only one who can bring peace and development to Gali. It should also be noted that Russian policy in Abkhazia sees its unifying and protective role in the confrontation and polarization between ethnic groups. Accordingly, the above-mentioned political message and subtext are directed at Abkhazians as well. This political performance also gives Abkhazians the feeling that Georgians are strangers and enemies to them and that peace can be ensured only by the Russian representation in Abkhazia.
If the de facto authorities of Abkhazia realize the dangers that Russia poses with such a game, they will inevitably have to reconsider their approaches to the Gali district. This should include the opening of a space for international organizations and civil society sector, so that the policy of "winning the hearts of population" is not exclusively Russian and they gain the trust of the Gali population. In a broader context, this "revision" should apply to the passportization of the Gali district and elimination of rights discrimination as well.